PROMOTING ETHICAL BEHAVIOR IN HIGHER EDUCATION: RATIONALE AND DESIGN OF AN INTERVENTION STUDY

Developing ethical competences is not only relevant in the context of higher education, but also for life in society in general. In fact, the universities aim at providing the students with the necessary knowledge and general competencies to become a successful professional. Unfortunately, however, unethical behaviors among university students are not uncommon. Alonso and Schweiger Gallo (2021), for example, asked university students about their intended ethical behavior in different situations and scenarios and detected four types of unethical behavior: cheating, hiding information, harming others, and stealing. Whereas the first type of unethical behavior refers to situations in which a student may opt for copying in order to pass an exam or try to obtain the answers before an exam takes place, hiding information refers to those situations in which a student may be responsible of a mistake and decides to hide the mistake. Harming others, on the other side, refer to situations in which other persons are directly or indirectly harmed, such as threatening others in order to obtain the notes of a lecture. Finally, stealing includes those situations in which one can choose whether or not to take something belonging to others.

In the present intervention, we designed formative activities aimed at promoting ethical competences in students. The activities targeted specifically one of the four unethical behaviors and the activities were designed in a virtual learning environment to allow for the completion of the activities in different settings. In order to assign the participants to the respective conditions (i.e., cheating, harming others, hiding information, or stealing), participants were first of all asked to complete, among other scales, the Ethics Scale in Educational Scenarios (EEEE) by Alonso and Schweiger (2021). They were then invited to engage in formative activities in Moodle in order to improve their ethical behavior. In a first section, all participants read an introduction on integrity and ethics and performed activities related to integrity and adequate vs inadequate ethical behavior. Next, participants were assigned to one of the four conditions depending on their scores regarding their probability of engaging in unethical behavior. Each of the conditions was structured around four standards (see Lewicki, 2016): the ethical aspects of the results; the pursuit of appropriate principles, rules and principles; the adherence to norms and values of the community; and personal convictions. For each of the four standards, participants were asked to perform tasks such as reading stories or watching videos, as well as comparing the own answers to questions with those of other participants. Further, the activities also included analyzing take-home messages, solving situational scenarios and forming action plans.

The design of the present intervention, as well as the implications and challenges of future interventions on ethical behavior are discussed.